Task of the year

The summer's Lebanon war was a rare opportunity to change our national situation.

IDF leaves lebanon 298.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF leaves lebanon 298.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
Nationally, 2006 was not a good year. It will be remembered as the year of the second war in Lebanon, the first war much of our nation felt it had lost. Internationally, there is also a sense that the West is not winning, and may be losing, the war against Islamo-fascism that was joined in earnest after the 9/11 attacks five years ago. Moreover, as we enter 2007, there is little sign that trends have changed. Our leadership has not regained the confidence of a majority of Israelis and seems too beleaguered and uncoordinated to do so. Internationally as well, while the passage of a very weak UN sanctions resolution on Iran may mark the turning of a corner, the sense of inevitability about Iran's nuclear program is far from being broken. The war was a rare opportunity to change not only our national situation, but to contribute significantly to moving the international momentum in a positive direction. If we had ended the war after the initial devastating blow to Hizbullah's long-range missiles in the first few days, or if, alternatively, we had quickly flushed through southern Lebanon with a ground campaign, then the perception that Hizbullah had emerged emboldened might never have been created. It is this sense of having failed to prevail that leads to the almost palpable assumption that a new war is coming. As Israelis, we know in our bones that the projection of weakness encourages our enemies to attack. This sense of trepidation has its healthy side, presuming it impels us to be better prepared for any eventuality. Moreover, our lack of definitive success was mitigated by the fact that it exposed not only flaws of military readiness and political leadership, but a fundamental distortion in how our conflict was seen domestically and internationally. We have a penchant for pretending, almost as much as the international community does, that our conflict is with Palestinians and that we can address it on its own. We often speak of the Iranian threat in a disembodied way, as if it were layered on, but disconnected from "our" conflict. The war should have demonstrated, to us and the world, the folly of such thinking, and how intimately our national and international spheres are connected. One minute we were fighting in Gaza, after the kidnapping of a soldier on that front, and the next Hizbullah had attacked in the North and we were fighting a militia acting as an Iranian division, while a million Israelis came under constant bombardment. The Hamas-Hizbullah-Syria-Iran axis was born. How should this new-found - and costly - insight be applied in the year ahead? The process of learning and applying the military lessons of the war is absolutely critical, and we should not take for granted that it will happen quickly and thoroughly enough. But at least the consciousness of the need and its urgency is there. What is less obvious is that our leadership faces an enormous international educational task, complicated by the fact that it is has been neglected for so many years, and even now has not been fully internalized at home. Though the Baker-Hamilton report seems to have been rejected, the fact that such an esteemed bipartisan commission could put forward a European-style Palestinian-centric view of the region indicates the scope of the challenge. That challenge is to educate ourselves and the world that the jihad against the West is seamless, and that the Muslim extremist opposition to a viable Israeli-Palestinian accord is but one aspect of that wider violent struggle. We need to absorb the reality that, much as we seek to find an accommodation with our Palestinian and other neighbors, the prospect for such negotiations depends almost entirely on whether the global wind is blowing in favor or against the wider jihad against the West. As much as we, James Baker, Tony Blair, Kofi Annan or Ban Ki-Moon might wish that securing Israeli-Palestinian peace can trim the sails of Islamists, that peace is rendered increasingly unachievable while the patron power of Islamism - the Iranian regime - becomes more feared, fearsome and belligerent. We cannot expect other countries to make this connection if the bulk of our public statements and actions reinforce, rather than work to debunk, Palestinian-centrism.